Assent Alone And The Gospel

Most of the things we assent to, whether a priori or a posteriori, are not volitional. One does not will to believe that God exists any more than one wills to believe image-5the rose is red. These are mental assents that are not discursive; they are immediate and without reflection. The will is bypassed. However, the gospel always engages the will as the unbeliever counts the cost and by grace abandons all hope in himself while looking to Christ alone, finding rest in Him. Accordingly, it is inadequate to reduce justifying faith to belief alone when belief is reduced to assent without remainder.
Clarkians and easy-believism advocates promote that we are justified by belief alone. One is justified by assenting to “Jesus died for my me.” Another extreme comes from “Lordship Salvation” advocates who define trusting in Christ in terms of commitment of life, which eclipses the gospel and redefines how one might appropriate Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. The focus of this post is on the former error.¹ Clarkians will assert that assent is synonymous with resting in or relying upon Christ. In this context it is suggested that to assent to Christ dying on the cross for my sins is to “trust” the proposition is true. Albeit the premise is true for true believers, this observation turns on a subtle equivocation over the word trust. Indeed, to trust a proposition is true is no different than to assent to its truth. So, in that sense trust and assent are synonyms. However, to trust that something is true is not the same thing as to trust in something because it is believed to be true. The latter idea of trust carries the meaning of reliance upon, whereas the former use of trust merely conveys an intellectual assent that might or might not be accompanied by reliance. Accordingly, to argue that trust and assent are synonyms in this way is to deny implicitly the need to trust willfully upon Christ alone for salvation. Clarkians redefine trust so that they might appear confessional since the Westminster standards clearly speak of not just “accepting“ the gospel as true but also relying upon (i.e. trusting in) the finished work of Christ. (It’s not just equivocal but also a downright case of special pleading to define “trust” as a synonym for assent and then on top of that limit its use to assent. Clarkians should outrightly deny trust rather than suggest they affirm it. The trust they equate with assent is not the trust of the Reformed tradition for that trust is metaphysical and volitional. It does not mean assent. It presupposes it!) Assent pertains to accepting something as true, even possibly with no reflection, whereas trust (or lack of trust) pertains to the degree of relevance a person might assign to the “assented to” proposition. Assent is a mental act that need not be accompanied by volition; whereas trust in Christ is always volitional in nature. Assent always pertains to accepting the truth of a proposition, whereas how one might respond in light of assent (e.g. trust, rest, exuberance, etc.) is commonly classified under the philosophical heading of disposition (which is not propositional assent). Whereas trust and other dispositions can evidence assent, dispositions need not accompany any given assent since assents can be mundane, occur without reflection and, also, be subjectively perceived as inconsequential. (This is why philosophers consider disposition to be a poor indicator of the presence of assent.) Assents or beliefs are propositional attitudes that can be distinguished from volitional, metaphysical movements. For instance, choices are mental activities that engage both the intellect and the will. This is more recognizable once we consider that choices involve both judgment and reliance. What one deems as true can result in a choice to rely upon that which the judgment contemplates, but the intellection of belief need not give way to volition. This is sufficient to demonstrate that belief and volition are not the same things though they often go together. This observation would seem rather uncontroversial in the Reformed tradition. It was presupposed in Jonathan Edwards’ writings and was taken up by men like R.L. Dabney, A.A. Hodge and even William Cunningham. Yet contra this popular view, Gordon Clark believed that it is an illusion (an illusion, mind you!) to think that such acts of intellection differ from volition. Clark went so far to say that belief in a chair is volitional. If assent and trust were synonyms, then either both would mean cognitive conviction or else volitional reliance. Conviction of truth (assent) could never give way to reliance upon truth (trust). If assent and trust are indistinguishable concepts and, therefore, mean the same thing, then it would be unintelligible to say that we rely upon anything we believe; nor would it be sensible to think that we believe anything we rely upon. Intellectual assent without reliance leaves no room for relying upon Christ; whereas reliance without conviction paves the way to trusting in Christ while not assenting to the gospel. Obviously, the concepts are indeed distinguishable as well as distinct principal acts of saving faith. 
¹In the not so distant future I plan to address the gospel according to John MacArthur and the nature of faith as the instrumental cause of justification. MacArthur fails to distinguish and ends up conflating the disposition of reliance upon Christ with the sanctifying grace that inevitably produces a faithful commitment of life to Christ. 

The Free Offer Of The Gospel

WSC Q&A 31:
Q. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Canons of Dort 2.5:
Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

The free offer of the gospel (abbreviated “free offer”) has meant different things at different times. From a confessional standpoint, it can only mean that God sincerely offers salvation to all who repent and believe. The meaning is at best narrow. The confessions do not speak in terms of God’s desire for all men to be saved; they merely teach that God promises the gift of everlasting life to all who would turn from self to Christ. This promise of life through faith is sincere. It is a genuine offer. If you believe, you will be saved. This gospel is to go out to all men everywhere.

Arminians are often quick to point out that the free offer is inconsistent with Calvinism. They reason that if the offer of the gospel is sincere and to go out to all people without exception, then God must desire the salvation of all people without exception. Otherwise, they say, the offer isn’t sincere. How can God desire the salvation of all men without exception if God as the ultimate decider of man’s salvation chooses to pass over some? In other words, Arminians reason that unless God desires to save all men, which they observe does not comport with Calvinism, the free offer of life through faith is insincere when given to the reprobate. Their axiom is that a sincere gospel offer implies a sincere desire to see the offer accepted, a well-meant offer. More on that in a moment.

The OPC’s Majority Report

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), representative of possibly most Calvinists today on the matter of the free offer, under the leadership of John Murray and Ned Stonehouse, adopted as a majority position the Arminian view that God desires the salvation of all men. While still holding fast to the Reformed view of predestination, the OPC affirmed the view that that the free offer cannot adequately be disassociated from a divine desire of salvation for all men without exception. In other words, such Calvinists assert that the genuineness of the gospel offer presupposes God’s desire that all embrace Christ.

Subsequently, the free offer has taken on the additional meaning of a well-meant offer, or desire, that the reprobate turn and be saved. Accordingly, a major difference between Arminians and such Calvinists as these is on the question of consistency. Arminians find the free offer inconsistent with unconditional election, whereas these sorts of Calvinists (who hold to an expanded view of “free offer”) do not.

Back to first principles. What makes an offer genuine or sincere?

Can we judge whether an offer is genuine or sincere simply based on whether it is true or not? If God intends to keep his promise, then isn’t the offer genuine? With respect to the gospel, if one meets the condition of faith, he will one day enter the joy of Lord. Isn’t that enough to make the offer of salvation sincere?

Let’s do some basic theology…

What does it mean that God desires the salvation of the reprobate? Are we to believe that God desires the reprobate to do something he cannot do, namely regenerate himself and grant himself union with Christ? Or, is that to check our Calvinism at the door? Isn’t it Jesus who saves? Isn’t salvation of God after all? At best, if we are to remain consistent with our Calvinism, then wouldn’t it follow that to argue for a well-meant offer of the gospel we’d have to posit that God desires that he himself would regenerate the reprobate unto union with Christ and salvation?

Simply stated, since Calvinism affirms total depravity and compatibilism, wouldn’t it stand to reason from a Calvinistic perspective that if God desires someone’s salvation, God must desire that he save that person? Accordingly, the question that should be considered in this regard is either (a) “Does God desire the reprobate to turn himself and live?” Or (b), “Does God desire that he himself turn the reprobate so that he can live?” Given that man is blind and deaf to spiritual things and cannot do anything to to turn himself Godward, how are we not strictly dealing with the theological plausibility of (b), that God desires to turn the reprobate contrary to what he has already decreed? If TULIP  is true, then (a) is a non-starter.

Now then, is it reasonable to think that the Holy Spirit desires to turn the reprobate Godward when the Father, in eternity, did not choose the reprobate in Christ? Moreover, if Christ did not die for the reprobate and does not pray that the efficacy of the cross would be applied to the reprobate, then in what sense does God desire the reprobate’s salvation? Does God desire that for which Christ does not pray? Does the Trinity desire that persons of the Godhead work at cross purposes? Does God desire true contradictions after all? Or is this a matter of mystery? Does God have multiple wills, let alone multiple wills that are at cross-purposes? Or is this a matter of two truths that we should accept by faith? Apparent contradiction or true contradiction?

Not only can God not save the reprobate whom he did not elect in Christ; 2000 years ago didn’t God act in time sealing that inability by securing salvation only for the elect? If so, then does it not follow that for God to desire the salvation of the reprobate, we should be willing to say that God, today, desires that Jesus would have died for the reprobate 2000 years ago? Or is there a third way of living looking at this? Does God live with a sense of regret or un-fulfillment? 

The OPC is quick to point out that they are not advocating a position entailing God both desiring and not desiring his decree. Fine, but then what does it mean for God to desire that men act contrary to his decree? Can God desire his decree while also desiring men to act in such a way that would thwart it? Moreover, aside from the question of whether God desires that man act contrary to God’s decree, what does it mean for God to desire that he himself act contrary to how he decreed he would act? Of course, I know no Calvinist who affirms the well-meant offer of the gospel who would also say that God desires that he elected more unto salvation, or anything like that. Yet if man cannot turn himself, as Calvinism clearly affirms, then isn’t the implication of a well-meant offer that God desires to save those he has determined not to save? So much for a well meant offer.

Competing desires and unfulfillment

John Piper has posited that God desires the salvation of the reprobate but that he desires their damnation for his own glory even more. There’s something attractive about Piper’s theory. It makes no apology for God positively desiring his decree, which includes his decree of reprobation. The downside is that it implies competing desires within the Godhead, a priority or ordering of pleasures within the same decree. Although perhaps an improvement upon John MacArthur’s view that in some sense God is “unfulfilled“ in his desire for the reprobate’s salvation, it nonetheless leaves God wanting. It’s an affront on God’s impassibility.

Abstractions, perhaps a useful tool…

If I desire to go to the doctor but it requires I get soaking wet in the rain, which ordinary I would not desire, then in one sense I do not desire to go out in the rain but in another sense I do. I do not want to go out in the rain if we consider going out in the rain as an abstraction from the overall plan of going to see the doctor. Yet I do desire to go out in the rain given that is what is necessary to get to see the doctor. The notion of abstracting particulars from the whole can be useful in this context. Although God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, God most certainly takes pleasure in his eternal decree coming to pass. He desires all the components of his comprehensive plan because it serves his purposes. As a matter of an isolated instance, God takes no pleasure in punishment. As an abstraction without purpose salvation is pleasurable, judgement is not. Yet in the context of all things – God himself, his plan, his glory etc., God takes the highest pleasure in himself, which includes his just indignation against the impenitent who have been ordained to judgement (Jude verse 4) for his own glory. God answers to no one.

God does not consider isolated instances outside the whole. In isolation we can consider something evil, but God who transcends time and space ordains evil for good. Therefore, as an abstraction, God does not desire reprobation for the mere sake of reprobation. Rather, God desires reprobation for his own glory and the good of the elect in the context of his one plan and purpose for this world.

God’s love and ours…

God hates the reprobate (Psalm 5:5; 11:5) and, therefore, has an active love only for those who love him. We may safely say that a necessary condition1 for God’s love to be presently active in the life of a sinner is for the sinner to love God (Proverbs 8:17) and love the Savior (John 14:21,23; 15:10; 16:27). But for sinners to love God, they must first be loved of God (1 John 4:19), which is the cause of the love relationship. Therefore, for the sinner to love God in order for her to experience God’s love in her life, she must first be the object of God’s predestinating love (Ephesians 1:4). Does God desire to grant predestinating love to those he has ordained to wrath (Jude 4)? If not, then in what sense does God desire to save them?


 

1. Condition in this context is not causal. The converted sinner’s love for God does not cause or produce God’s love for the sinner. Neither is the relationship between the two a quid pro quo. It’s a relationship predicated on pure grace. To say that the believer’s love for God (x) is a necessary condition for God’s active love in the life of the converted sinner (y) is simply to say that it is impossible to have y without x. Which is to say, the absence of x guarantees the absence of y. It’s also to say that the presence of y guarantees x.

God’s active love in the life of the sinner, which is a transforming love, is also biconditional. Not just only if the sinner loves God does the sinner experience God’s Iove but also if the sinner loves God. (The latter being the prima facie rendering of the texts.) The sinner’s love for God are necessary and sufficient conditions for receiving God’s love (and likewise for God’s active love in the sinners’s life as it relates to the believer’s love for God). And again, conditions pertain not to cause but state of affairs.

 

COVID, Government and Assembling

Some have tried to justify civil disobedience by pointing to Hebrews 10:25, the charge to the church not to neglect or forsake assembling. Mistakes done in ignorance are one thing, but when the learned do such things it comes dangerously close to finding a proof-text for personal

pretext. That is not how teachers are to handle the Scriptures, let alone oversee the flock of God. (James 3:1 warns that not many should become teachers in the church. For teachers will be judged more strictly.)

The Ten Commandments have no exceptions. However, from a Confessional perspective there are numerous applications for each of the Ten Commandments. In principle, the Ten Commandments are exhaustive in that all true transgressions fall under them, but not each commandment is one of the Ten Commandments. For instance, adultery is sin. There is no case in which it is not. However, the Seventh Commandment in application includes the sin of immodest apparel and the undue delay of marriage. What constitutes immodest apparel and undue delay of marriage is not always obvious. Adultery simpliciter is always obvious. Another principle to keep in mind that has wide reaching implications is that one can possibly know that someone has dressed immodestly without knowing here on earth where the modest-immodest line is drawn in heaven. In fact, I’m quite sure there isn’t just one line for immodesty. It’s obviously situational. It’s potentially infinite. (e.g. A wife in her swimsuit in a jacuzzi with only her husband is not the same thing as wearing a swimsuit to congregational worship.) But such finitude regarding our knowledge of the stark lines of demarcation does not make anyone less responsible to remain modest, or less culpable for immodesty.

The point is simply this. The command not to forsake the assembling of the church is not one of the Ten Commandments but an application of both tables of the law – love for God and love for man. Though no less binding in its true meaning, it is exceedingly more difficult to parse in application. Yet again, one needn’t know the precise line in order to know it hasn’t yet been crossed. Like all applications of the moral law, it’s multi-faceted. When it’s time to disobey we can potentially know it without being able to define the line of demarcation, as if there were only one line to discern! We don’t always need theoretical understanding in the present given that God is often pleased to give us the grace of practical understanding at the time of testing (Luke 12:12). As with cases of immodestly, so it is here; there is no single line for disobeying God’s sovereign ordination of civil magistrates (even evil Caesars). The variables that make up the philosophical states of affairs are infinite. Also, applications of the law are not to be imposed as binding in the same way as the Ten Commandments. For instance, the Eighth Commandment forbids stealing. Whereas an application of the commandment is moderation of earthly goods. A wife may not submit to her husband if he tells her to steal. Yet a wife, after making her case to her husband not to incur an extravagant expense, may in good conscience co-sign a loan and in good faith thank God for the providential benefits of the unwise financial decision of her husband (perhaps a suitable home for her and her children). However, it would be hard to see how she could thank God for her stolen jewelry. Again, there is a relevant difference between the law proper and how it binds, and an application of the law and how it binds. (Fundamentalists conflate the two without even wincing. In doing so they bind the consciences of the sheep by establishing a righteousness of their own. Whereas the Reformed are generally more theologically nuanced and careful.)

Although we might not know such lines, we aren’t ignorant of certain defining principles. What we do know is that if we are being required to sin, then we must disobey (which in turn complicates things further because of the innumerable considerations of how we might best disobey as unto the Lord). We also know that we may forgo our rights, even our religious freedoms, if our motives are according to other biblical precepts. After all, Jesus did. Not all injustices must be fought. Jesus called Peter “Satan” for wanting to fight the injustice of Jesus’ imminent murder by crucifixion. We also do well to remember that the assembling of the church is not an end but a means to many things, not the least of which is the encouragement of believers. Christians are to provoke each other unto love and good works. A primary way (but not the only way) of doing that is by public assembly on the Lord’s Day. The charge of Hebrews 10:25 is contextualized by the principles set forth in Hebrews 10:24.

Inconsistency can sometimes expose pretext

On occasion congregational Lord’s Day worship is cancelled due to inclement weather. It is also true that on occasion congregants feel too sick or are in too much physical pain to venture out to worship. Such decisions are at least based upon considerations that pertain to personal and public safety, welfare of others and personal comfort. Yet in all such cases, a choice is being made, whether corporately or individually, not to assemble. Therefore, if decisions not to assemble do not necessarily entail sin, then we may not simply point to Hebrews 10:25 as a text requiring Christians to assemble regardless of circumstance. In other words, if not all decisions not to assemble equate to the sin of “forsaking” assembly, then we must work harder to apply the Scriptures to this current age as it applies to COVID and government.

We must forsake hijacking the meaning of forsaking

In Hebrews 10:25 the “forsaking” (“neglecting” or “giving up”) of assembling is an outright willful desertion by some. Forsaking entails a willful exchange of spiritual things for earthly things. Unlike Demas who had “forsaken” (or “deserted”) the Apostle Paul for this present age, the church is not forsaking her assembling for the charms of deceit, the glitter of the age. The church is not forsaking heavenly worship for earthly pleasure. Quite the opposite. The Bride of Christ longs to assemble as the congregation of God. Far from forsaking congregational worship (as is the manner of some) – the church militant, whose weapons are spiritual not carnal, is instead patiently waiting upon the Lord her God to deliver her from this present providence. That is not sin. That is sanctified hope, which is always under good regulation before God.

If one thinks we are sinning in the face of an absolute command not to forsake assembling together, then it’s incumbent upon such a one to explain how it was not sin on day one and what has changed in principle to make it sin today. (Beware of those who cite differences that are not relevant distinctions.) How have things now become a willful abandonment of the spiritual for the earthly? (Play close attention, Bothers and Sisters. As soon as one’s decision is based upon the supposed absurdity of the CORONA statistics or anything that resembles “enough is enough” or even the imposition of tyrannical rule(!), he has made the criteria to break the civil-law, which is ordained by God, reasons other than personal sin. If that is acceptable, then it must be nuanced from Scripture.) There is a place for reasoning with and even expressing opposition to the civil magistrate, but when the criteria for civil defiance becomes our rights, even our Christian rights purchased by Christ, which Christians have throughout the ages have been willing to forgo as unto the Lord even under severe persecution (which this is not), the criterion fails to be a biblical one unless it can be shown in Scripture. (The law of love is relevant, which I touch upon here.) If we were required not to teach in the name of Christ Jesus, then that is something we must disobey. We have Bible for that (Acts 5:26-29). But by the mercies of God, whatever the criteria, I dare say we aren’t close to being forbidden to invoke the name that is above all names.

Moreover, we must distinguish between a direct imposition upon the church that comes from without and an imposition that is the indirect byproduct that comes from another lawful sphere of government that’s acting within its boundaries, even if unwisely. We are suffering under the latter, not the former.

(As an aside, if it has been determined that it is absolute sin for a church not to assemble, then there’s no relevant reason regarding the decision at hand to consult attorneys, for the consequences have no bearing when sin is being required. There can be other biblical reasons to consult legal counsel but it shouldn’t pertain to the consequences, not the decision.)

God is providing…

Even during the trial of the pandemic, in God’s mercy and grace he has provided other ways to fulfill the law of love set forth in Hebrews 10:24. Moreover, a little reality check might be in order. We are by no means suffering even close to the first century elect exiles of the Dispersion (i.e. the Christian Jews – the strangers scattered throughout regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia). The extended first century promise to us should require less faith than the faith of the Apostle Peter’s immediate audience. We have it on good authority that after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. Amen and Amen.

Middle Knowledge and Calvinism

Middle Knowledge (MK) is God’s knowledge of all true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF). As the word middle suggests, this knowledge falls between other types of knowledge. Specifically, MK is situated between God’s natural knowledge, which is God’s knowledge of all necessary truth, and God’s free knowledge, which is God’s knowledge of his creative decree. (MK is logically prior to free knowledge yet posterior to natural knowledge.)

Calvinists typically deny MK for two reasons. Firstly, proponents of MK typically affirm that the objects of God’s MK are contingent choices – choices that would occur under certain circumstances yet somehow might (might not) occur under those same circumstances. Given the contingent nature of such metaphysically free choices, counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be true – in which case they cannot be the object of knowledge, including MK. However, an objection such as this is not based upon a denial of MK per se but rather it is an objection to a particular view of free will that would render CCFs unknowable. It’s a rejection of MK by association.

In discussions on Scientia Media, Dabney did not demur.

“As I showed you, when explaining this scientia media, in the hands of him who holds the contingency of the will, it is illogical; in the hands of the Calvinist, it becomes consistent.”

As Dabney also states,

“Let us not be scared by unpopular names. It is a knowledge conditioned on His own almighty purpose, and His own infallible sense, relative. But this is not a dangerous sense. For only lay down the true doctrine, that volitions are efficiently determined by dispositions, and there is, to God, no shadow of contingency remaining about such foreknowledge.”

So, for Dabney:

“Volitions are caused. The efficient causes of volitions are the soul’s own dispositions; the occasional causes are the objects providentially presented to those dispositions. Even we may, in many cases, so know dispositions as efficiently to procure, and certainly to predict, given volitions, through the presentation of objective causes thereof. An infinite understanding may so completely know all dispositions and all their complex workings, as to foretell and produce volitions thus in every case, as we are able do in many cases.”

Dabney believed we needn’t shy away from MK. Since CCFs are not contingent choices but rather caused choices, Dabney affirmed God’s foreknowledge of CCFs on the basis of the surety of their fruition. However, with respect to Dabney we cannot be sure, or so it would seem, that he believed that God knows all would-counterfactuals as a subset of God’s natural knowledge or his free knowledge. Consider, Dabney grounds God’s knowledge of such counterfactuals not in God’s self-knowledge either of possibilities or what he would do but in God’s infallible knowledge of dispositions and volitions of un-instantiated essences. That is no different than the MK of Molinism. Furthermore, Dabney draws an analogy of our knowledge of the predictability of the volitions of others (which certainly is not sourced from our self-knowledge) to God’s knowledge of CCFs, arguing from the lesser to the greater as a matter of degree, not kind. For Dabney God simply knows more than we do about the intricacies of the free moral agent in view. That’s how he can know CCFs. In both cases (for God and man) knowledge would be sourced from without, not within.

Dabney does not positively index God’s knowledge of counterfactuals to natural knowledge of possibilities or free knowledge of true CCFs. If anything, he denies those options. Of course, to Dabney’s credit he positively denies pure contingency of choice and affirm causal determinism. In that respect he distances himself from a Molinistic use and need of MK but not from MK itself. However, what is absent in Dabney’s analysis is how God can know “the occasional causes” that will affect the “soul’s own dispositions” in a manner that will produce a specific volition and none other. Who or what is the truth-maker of propositional CCFs for Dabney? Does Dabney require a MK that’s based upon inference from casual necessity? It would seem so (especially given his lesser to greater analogy). 

Dabney in the spirit of Calvinistic scholastics recognizes that through the presentation of objects to dispositions, volitions are caused and, therefore, implicitly necessary (though free in a compatibilist sense). On this basis we find the second reason Calvinists have often rejected MK – as superfluous since such knowledge would seemingly be captured under another category of divine knowledge. But for Dabney and many Calvinists like him, where is the propositional object of MK grounded? Certainly not in metaphysical contingency, which is the grounding of Molinism (though not acknowledged by Molinists). Notwithstanding, the only truth-maker of CCFs implicit in Dabney’s thought is the necessity of creaturely volition that is produced from dispositions as a necessary consequent of objects providentially presented to the soul. So, rather than ground CCFs in the non-causal effect of pure contingency, Dabney grounds CCFs in the efficient cause of volition from disposition (or act from will). That God providentially orders the occasional cause of objects that efficiently incline disposition causing a resultant volition is not to ground the counterfactual itself in God’s sovereign determination of which way a disposition would be inclined. In this respect Dabney is no different from the Molinist. His position entails eternal propositional CCFs that are not known according to God’s knowledge of what he could or would do. God’s knowledge would be eternally receptive in this respect. 

MK is not merely an unnecessary distinction for the Calvinist, it’s a misleading misnomer. Yet for many Calvinists MK sill is required, not because they affirm libertarian freedom but because they believe God knows CCFs not by free determination or knowledge of possibilities but rather only through an “infinite understanding… [of] all dispositions and all their complex workings,” making it possible for God “to foretell and produce volitions thus in every case.”

Since for the Calvinist possible worlds identify as feasible worlds (i.e. all possible worlds can be actualized), all possible counterfactuals of creaturely freedom should be seen as grounded in God’s natural knowledge of all possibilities available for actualization. (Infeasible worlds are consistent descriptions of reality that God cannot actualize. For the indeterminist God cannot know infeasible worlds through natural knowledge, hence God’s need of MK, in a Molinist sense, to know any libertarian free choice and consequently feasibility and infeasibility.) Since God possesses the (natural) knowledge of all possible CCFs, the knowledge of all possible CCFs cannot be situated in the middle between natural knowledge and free knowledge. In that critical respect, God does not have middle knowledge of possible CCFs. 

It seems to me that Calvinists often identify possible CCFs as would-counterfactuals. Therefore, from a Christian compatibilist perspective, given that premise, it is often thought that would-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are properly catalogued under God’s natural knowledge, God’s knowledge of necessary truths. (The actualization of possibilities are not necessary truths, but such abstract possibilities are necessarily known.)

Calvinists ought to think of CCFs not merely in terms of God’s necessary knowledge of all possible CCFs but also in terms of God’s free knowledge of would-counterfactuals. After all, not all possible counterfactuals are would-counterfactuals! Given the same state of affairs God could determine different resultant dispositions to act. Given an identical state of affairs, God could determine a fragrance or song from yesteryear to causally produce a disposition either to look at an old photo album, pick up the phone to call someone or something else. These alternative possibilities would not be indeterminate might-counterfactuals of libertarian creaturely freedom but rather true possibilities available to God, part of God’s natural knowledge, from which God could determine and freely know any true CCFs.

If God preinterprets particulars to give them their causal meaning or relationships, then what God could actualize would be an object of his natural knowledge, whereas what God would actualize would be an object of his free knowledge – i.e. a matter of his sovereign determination of how moral agents would be inclined given any object presented to the soul. So, if there are true CCFs, then they would be a matter of God’s free knowledge. 

Properly understood, God’s knowledge of all possible CCFs is included in his natural knowledge. If God has knowledge of counterfactuals that he would actualize, then that knowledge would have to be a matter of what God freely knows. Yet once we recognize that the set of true CCFs is a subset of possible CCFs, we then can see that true CCFs aren’t necessarily known as contingently true but rather freely known as contingently true. Therefore, we must expand our understanding of free knowledge to more than the creative decree if free knowledge is to capture true CCFs, that is to say would-counterfactuals.

Free Will and Compatibilism, a brief sketch

Discussions on “free will” inevitably lead to analysis of (a) moral responsibility, (b) the limits of metaphysical freedom – from autonomy and pure contingency to necessity and causality, and (c) divine foreknowledge. What is indubitable is that moral agents, when they choose, are morally accountable. Therefore, if determinism is true, then determinism must be compatible with moral responsibility. Secondly, if moral agents must possess freedom in order to be morally accountable, then there must be a kind of freedom that is compatible with determinism.

Although we might feel as though we have possibilities within fixed relevant states of affairs antecedent to any volitional act, we would not in any strong sense; nor would free moral agents be the ultimate source of choices but rather, from a Reformed Christian perspective, God’s eternal decree and divine ordering of providence outside of man would be the locus of ultimate source. For the Reformed Christian, the freedom that is compatible with determinism is not just the most desirable freedom; it is the only kind of freedom, without which moral accountability would be destroyed.

Incompatiblists Define The Debate & Set The Trap

Incompatibilists maintain that the power to do otherwise is a necessary condition for freedom. If we are powerless to change the past along with the governing laws of nature and if volitional acts are necessitated by such, then such acts are a necessary consequence of the past of which we are not the ultimate source nor in a position to fully control. This basic “argument” against determinism should not have caught any thinking compatibilist off guard. It merely cashes out as a complaint that libertarian freedom in not compatible with determinism. (No surprise there.) It does not address the freedom of compatiblism.

But why should freedom be seen as the power to do otherwise and not merely the ability to do as one wills? What if freedom merely is the liberty to do what one desires without impediment? In other words, rather than the ability to exercise power of contrary choice, why isn’t the essence of freedom the possession of those cognitive capacities that produce different willed acts given different states of affairs?

Accomodations For PAP Backfire

Classical compatibilists have tried to work within the strictures of alternative possibilities. Although classical compatibilists don’t affirm a strict ability to do otherwise, they have traditionally affirmed a version of the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP) couched in hypothetical or conditional terms. Although Jane could not have done other than x; she could have done not-x had she willed. Such an accommodation to PAP has been met with criticism. For one thing, it doesn’t meet the incompatibilist demand of radical freedom to do otherwise. (Again, no surprise.) Secondly, it is alleged by more than incompatibilists that for Jane to will contrary to how she would, such freedom to will entails regress. The first criticism fails for lack of evaluation of conditional analysis on its own terms. The second criticism fails because conditional analysis does not posit actual ability to do otherwise. Accordingly, the hypothetical condition of willing to do otherwise, which was merely intended to satisfy PAP on a conditional basis, was never intended to cash out as actual ability to do otherwise. Therefore, an incompatibilist’s objection that such hypotheticals fail to establish actual ability to do otherwise should never have been met by a compatibilist’s appeal to hypothetical ability, let alone back and forth ad infinitum. The objection that determinism does not comport with actual ability to do otherwise is something the compatibilist should gladly concede, not appeal. Full stop.

Compatibilists never sought a theory of metaphysical access to alternative possibilities. Actual ability to do otherwise was not being defended, let alone on the basis of a conditional ability. Conditional analysis was merely a way of illustrating a theory of freedom that entails responsibility when one has liberty to do as one desires according to cognitive capacity. The analysis remains particularly useful with respect to the matter of responsibility when we stop to consider the difference between (a) one’s moral ability to act as one wills, and (b) one’s natural inability to, say, fly if one wills: Jane could morally-x if she willed. Jane could not physically-y if she willed. The goal was to put forth a kind of alternative possibility that complements moral accountability. Being able to x if one wills to x is sufficient for responsibility. Furthermore, the implication of conditional alternatives, given determinismis that counterfactual desires would be ultimately sourced outside the will, again making any regress-appeal to defend actual ability (to will and to do other) an undesirable project for the compatibilist. (We could just as easily observe that guidance control does not satisfy the requirements of regulative control, but so what? That compatibilism does not meet all the demands of incompatibilism is neither surprising nor interesting.)

Dispositional Analysis, An Improvement?

Notwithstanding, PAP yielded much good. The discussion advanced. Certain compatibilists have been moved by the “consequence argument” to consider freedom to do otherwise not according to ability but dispositional powers: Jane does not need to be able to do x if she has the power to try. Although arguing from a position of dispositional powers gets out from under regress or circular objections, there was no conundrum to begin with for the compatibilist who employed conditional analysis with a singular intent. We may also say that dispositionalism, although a helpful tool in the compatibilist toolbox, does nothing to advance a metaphysical arrangement for freedom to do otherwise, but why should it?

Although analysis of dispositional powers allows us to consider free will in the realm of natural ability and inability in a focused sense, it also entails a limited sense. Although Jane could not fly with her arms if she willed to do so, she would be free to exercise the power to try. The former consideration of doing what is tried escapes dispositional consideration. Whereas conditional analysis offers a fuller picture. Conditional analysis could correctly conclude not just a lack of freedom to fly due to natural inability (Jane could not fly if she wanted), but also an ability to try to fly if so willed. (If Jane willed to try to fly she would try to fly.) Therefore, conditional analysis loses nothing in this respect relative to dispositional analysis, but it retains something outside dispositional analysis. Moreover, conditional analysis would seem to have an advantage with respect to an analysis of responsibility. A crippled Jane (for no fault of her own) would not be responsible to take walks with her child in the park because she could not do so if she willed. An analysis limited to dispositional powers, by the nature of the case, could conclude a freedom to try to walk but offers nothing with respect to the potentiality to succeed at walking. Freedom to try is not always sufficient for moral accountability, whereas the freedom to do in a conditional sense would imply accountability. The conditional analysis of classical compatibilism offers much with respect to understanding freedom and responsibility in light of determinism.

A Semantic Regress Accomodation

Another contemporary attempt employed by compatibilists to get out from under the supposed regress condundrum is to speak in terms of what would have been necessary if x were now true. Rather than speaking in conditional terms: “Jane could have done not-x had she willed,” it is now considered advantageous to speak in terms of: If Jane were feeding her baby, she would have married rather than remained single. The focus was no longer fixed on hypotheticals that change a fixed future by altering the past – e.g. I could have x had I willed to have x. Instead the focus shifted to an agent’s power to act in a way that contemplates a different past. Such an approach doesn’t posit acting contrary to what the past caused but rather contemplates acting in a way that would entail a different causal past for acts present or future. Although a more refined and perhaps insightful way of addressing PAP, I find this to be more a semantic distinction without a profound difference relative to classical compatibilism given that (a) conditional analysis in the first place should not have been evaluated on strict incompatibilist terms (i.e. on the basis of whether it makes room for the power to choose otherwise) and (b) if “Jane were feeding her baby and, therefore, married in another possible world” is no less susceptible to misguided arrows that point to an alleged compatibilist regress conundrum. (Paper will never resist incompatibilism’s ink.)

Both classical and contemporary compatibilism in this narrow sense are approaching the weight of PAP from different angles but saying nothing distinctly different relative to compatibilism simpliciter. (Refinement of a general thesis in the face of objections does not entail complete abandonment.) In the final analysis, it’s not the ability to exercise power of contrary choice but rather the possession of certain cognitive capacities that produce different acts given different states of affairs that is relevant to compatibilism.

Second Order Volition, A Step Toward Completing The Picture

Another tool in the compatibilist toolbox pertains to: first order desires; will; second-order desires; and second-order volition. A beast and a human can have the same first-order desire to eat ice cream. When the first order desire gives way to action, the will to eat ice cream fully obtains. Unlike with beasts, moral agents have a capacity to deliberate. Moral agents approve on a second-order what they desire, or else they disapprove and refrain. The resultant action is a second-order volition. The point is, moral agents desire what they will. They approve of their desires. They desire their desires. This is an improvement relative to classical compatibilism because it not only addresses freedom of action but also takes a step toward completing the free will picture by incorporating a “mesh” of first and second-order desires that is both intuitive and particular to choices in contradistinction to brute instincts, perhaps addiction and phobias too. For the determinist it is no concern that moral agents acquire their wills through a deterministic chain as long as we possess the wills we want. Although this brief discussion on second-order features distinguishes moral agents from lesser creatures (as well as offers distance for non-volitional physical addictions and phobias perhaps) it too is not likely to satisfy the incompatibilist’s demands for a particular kind of control, source and alternative possibilities.

For The Fun Of Frankfurt

A survey like this would not be complete without referencing Frankfurt. It has been discerned that if one could be fatally prevented from doing other than x when it is true that she would do ~x, then to x can be secured as the only possible act. Doing other than x would become impossible. When xing is done, it would obtain without possible alternatives. Therefore, the ability to do otherwise is not a necessary condition for moral accountability if the possibility of libertarian freedom can be prevented from being exercised other than in one direction. (Of course, there are counter arguments to Frankfurt’s challenge to PAP.)

Incompatibilism Has Some Catching Up To Do

At the end of the day, there are insurmountable problems with libertarian freedom that relieve the compatibilist from always assuming the burden of having to work within PAP. Just to name a few…

  1. Grounding objection / God’s foreknowledge
  2. Nowhere is LFW taught in Scripture; yet determinism is, as well as moral accountability
  3. If LFW were true, without a Word from God establishing LFW we’d have to be omniscient to know something was not the ultimate source of our wills
  4. Given LFW, either our choices are not moral or an infinite regress accompanies all choices
  5. Accidental or historical necessity
  6. Choices are rational, not random

Transcendental Arguments, a Primer

Transcendental arguments (TAs) are deductive arguments in that if the premises are true and the form is valid, then the conclusion must be necessarily true. Furthermore, TAs pertain to preconditions for the possibility of the existence of some basic or common experience. That is, TAs put forth necessary precondition(s) without which a generally accepted experience is unintelligible. Finally, another distinguishing trait of TAs is that preconditions for such basic or common experiences are not learned by experience. The preconditions pertain to what can be known only apart from experience.

In analytic form a transcendental argument may look as follows, [where P is a common experience and Q is a necessary precondition for P, which can be appealed to on an a priori basis (and not according to a posteriori inference)].

Prove Q exists by way of: If P, then Q:

1. ~Q (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove: Assume Q does not exist.)
2. If ~Q –> ~P (If Q does not exist, then P does not exist since Q is a precondition for P)
3. ~~P (It is false that P does not exist – i.e. P does exist.)  (Contradiction)
4. ~~Q (It is false that Q does not exist.) (Modus Tollens 2, 3 and 4)
5. Q (Q exists.) (Law of negation)

In other words, for P to exist, Q must also exist since Q is a necessary precondition for P. Since P exists, then so must Q.

The analytic form of the argument is common and is most often used for non-transcendental arguments. Because TAs are concerned with preconditions for intelligible experience and how reality is, TAs have a unique quality about them both in what is purported as a shared experience among humans as well as the profundity of the transcendental itself. They’re not so trivial as to pertain to arguments such as, if the Eagles did not win Super Bowl LII on Sunday February 4, 2018, there would not have been 700,000 Eagle Fans celebrating an Eagles Super Bowl LII win on Thursday, February 8, 2018 on Broad Street in Philadelphia. There were 700,000 fans celebrating… victory… Therefore, the Eagles won Super Bowl LII.

Although celebration of victory presupposes victory, the Eagles Superbowl experience is not universally shared. Moreover, the argument would rely upon appeals to inferences gained by experience, such as we know from observation that sports fans typically celebrate victories, not losses, and we can witness victory celebrations following victories. Therefore, the form of an argument alone does not make a transcendental argument. Aside from being deductive arguments dealing with preconditions for shared and typically uncontroversial experiences, TAs also incorporate a (transcendental) premise that can be known only a priori. (The Eagles argument fails to be a TA on two out of three counts.)

Similarly, a necessary precondition for death is life but life is not a transcendental relative to death. Death presupposes life is an a posteriori consideration. One’s knowledge that death presupposes life can be appealed to according to empirical observation.

A brief comment about traditional theistic proofs:

Aside from the fallacious formulations of the traditional arguments for God’s existence (as they have been traditionally formulated), they are not transcendental-oriented. They don’t aim to demonstrate that God is transcendentally necessary for the possibility of, for instance, causality or design. That God is a transcendent first cause does not imply that God is a necessary precondition for the intelligibility of causation. We also might want to address that the unbeliever’s implicit claim on the intelligibility of causation does not comport with her worldview presuppositions (e.g. all that exists is chance acting upon matter over time). Because the unbeliever will not acknowledge a common creator and sustainer of men and things, she works on borrowed capital when operating as if the rational thoughts of the human mind should have any correlation to the way in which the mind-independent world rationally behaves.

Regarding necessary conditions in general:

“If causality then God” merely means that causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. Which is to say: if causality exists then it is logically necessary that God exists. However, such a premise does not delve into the question of how God and causality relate to each other. It does not tell us whether God exists because of causality or whether causality exists because of God (or neither). If, then propositions often refer only to states of affairs, not order whether logical or temporal. (It’s not unlike, if justification, then faith; and, if faith, then justification. Both are true. Yet neither premise informs us that justification presupposes faith and that faith is a necessary precondition for justification.)

TAG from causality:

Causality presupposes God says more than causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. Causality presupposes God implies that God makes causality possible. Since causality exists, then so must God. (To argue either way, for or against God, even presupposes God!)

TAG under delivers?:

Christians and Atheists often say that TAG does not achieve its goal because not every worldview can be refuted by a single argument. Such a claim demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the scope of transcendental arguments in general and TAG in particular. To deny the success of any particular TAG that is properly formulated is to reject logic and / or biblical truths. It’s also an indicator that one might be confusing proof with persuasion.

The transcendental premise:

So what about the controversial claim that God is a necessary precondition for causality? We can ultimately defend our knowledge of the premise by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Of course, the unbeliever rejects that authority; nonetheless that the unbeliever is dysfunctional in this way does not mean that an appeal to Scripture is fallacious to justify one’s knowledge of the premise. It is critical at this juncture for the Christian to distinguish for the unbeliever (a) the source of her personal knowledge that God makes causality possible, which comes from the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination through the self-authenticating Scriptures, from (b) the proof that God makes causality possible. How we know x is not the argument for x.

What’s a girl to do?

Of course, given the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth of Scripture, the presuppositional apologist defends the transcendental premise by performing internal critiques of opposing worldviews, showing that they cannot account for causality etc., while showing that Christianity can. It would be a mistake, however, to think that such an accommodation and avoidance of any serious charge of being fideistic implies that the conclusion of TAG (God exists) and the justification for the transcendental premise (God is a necessary precondition for causality) rests upon inductive inference. By refuting opposing philosophical ideologies the Christian apologist merely acknowledges that the unbeliever refuses to bend the knee to the self-attesting Word of God. Since unbelievers will not accept the truth claims of the Bible, the only thing the Christian can do before God and onlookers is refute hypothetical competitors, but that hardly implies that a formulation of any given TAG is an inductive argument, or that the transcendental premise within such an argument is inferred only after having successfully refuted enough opposing worldviews.

God or ~God:

Lastly, we don’t have to refute an “infinite number“ of “explanations” for the intelligibility of causality. Either God is necessary for the intelligibility of causality or God is not necessary for the intelligibility of causality. Those are the only two possibilities. It’s not a matter of God vs naturalism, idealism, atheism, Platonism or any number of X-isms. It’s not a matter of a, b, c….  It’s a matter of a or ~a. Autonomy or ~autonomy reduces to  ~God or God.

The believer cannot get out from under the fact that he has an infallible word on the subject. Nor should she be embarrassed by the revelation of God as if it may not be appealed to disclose how we know what we know. There is no meaning if autonomous presuppositions are true; we know that through Scripture, though we demonstrate it by arguing for the impossibility of any proffered worldview.

Let’s reason together:

We don’t dodge the would-be competitors to God as the unifying source of otherwise brute particulars, the solution to the One and the Many. Bring them on and let’s see if they can make sense of reality, knowledge and moral absolutes. Let’s compare worldviews to see who can make sense of men and things. As each variation of the one non-Christian worldview is refuted one by one, let’s not mistake those refutations as the basis for our knowledge of God’s existence. Rather, let’s recognize those refutations for what they truly are – a display of what we already know apart from those refutations, that only God (and not autonomous reasoning) can make sense of God’s world.

Foundations of Presuppositionalism

“Dave, I’ve never said I could give you 100% proof of Christianity. But I think I’ve given you some very strong evidence – stronger than you have for believing a lot of other things, I’ll bet. But even if those evidences [for Christianity] weren’t that strong, you’d have good reason to commit yourself to Jesus, because the stakes are so high. You have a great deal to lose if you don’t and Christianity is true, and nothing to lose if you don’t and Christianity is false.”

Calvin Beisner (Answers for Atheists…)

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Apostle Paul (Mars Hill)
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Much of what passes today as a Christian apologetic has little to no resemblance to how Scripture confronts the ideologies of the age. The evidences for Christianity that might not be “that strong” can’t be the evidences the twenty seven books of the New Testament present. After all, Scripture is a more sure word of knowledge that is worth our attention, for by the power of the Holy Spirit it alone can cause light to break into dark places “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

If Genesis 15:17 and Hebrews 6:13 tells us anything it is that only God’s word can authorize God’s word. Unlike an expert witness in a forensic trial, who can God call in to verify his claims?! By the nature of the case, the testimony of Scripture is self-evidencing and not dependent upon the testimony of men or a subjective response. (As Westminster Confession of Faith 1.4 teaches, the Bible ought to believed, obeyed and received because it is the Word of God.)

Although the Bible self-evidences itself as divinely authoritative and infallibly true, those objective considerations can be distinguished from the Holy Spirit’s internal testimony, which bears witness to the Word of God as the Word of God. When a believer subjectively receives the Word of God for what it truly is, he does so on the authority of God speaking therein. That is why the apostle Paul could give thanks to God because the Thessalonians received the Word of God “as what it really is, the word of God.” (My focus here is not on salvation, but in passing it is worth noting that in a technical sense one’s knowledge of the gospel message will depend upon the warrant or justification for her true belief in the gospel message. Does the authoritative basis upon which we believe the gospel message is from God a matter of concern?)

Especially in the context of all men knowing God through creation and in judgement, God’s voice in Christ comes with equal clarity and authority (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18-20; John 5:36-37). If Jesus’ testimony of himself is not sufficient warrant for receiving him on his say-so alone, then Jesus could not truthfully and justly say, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48)

Regarding the fool who has said in his heart there is no God, he must be answered according to his folly lest the apologist aids him in appearing wise in his own eyes (Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 26:5). The goal in answering the fool this way is not so that he might believe God exists, for he already does know God, though he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:-18). The goal is that by showing the foolishness of unbelief the “unbeliever” will be (a) undressed before the world as the fool* he truly is and (b) given no occasion from the faithful apologist to be wise in his own eyes (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). No credibility may be given to the unbeliever’s agnostic claims and vain presuppositions lest we become like him in his foolishness (Proverbs 26:4). Not only must the unbeliever’s foolishness be exposed on its own terms (according to his presuppositions of unbelief), the unbeliever is also to be answered not according to his folly. If his folly is his would-be autonomy, then he is to be answered according to true presuppositions, the presuppositions of the world’s dependence upon God for all things.

Our apologetic is two-step. For argument sake we begin with the presuppositions of unbelief and proceed to expose the particular stripe of unbelief that is before us according to its arbitrariness and inconsistency. Then, for argument sake, we ask the unbeliever to assume the Christian worldview to see whether it makes sense of human experience. We are commanded to give a defense, yet in gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

God willing, in the coming days we will move from the theoretical to a formal proof of God’s existence.

* When the Bible calls man a fool, it is not engaging in ad hominem attack or cruel name calling. Rather, Scripture is referring to the one who conducts his life without regard for God. The fool does not fear God, which leads to corrupt and perverse living (no matter how camouflaged in hypocrisy).

 

Evidence

Can it be proven that Christ is risen?

If Harry did not believe the Philadelphia Phillies won the 1980 world series, he would likely change his mind if it could be proven from Baseball Almanac. Similarly, if Harry did not believe Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents would more than likely put the matter to rest for Harry. Similar examples could be given for state capitals, the location of famous rivers and so on. The point should be apparent. What one will accept as proof will depend upon what one accepts as authoritative.

The reason people are willing to change their minds on such matters after being confronted with a reliable, even an authoritative source, is because not much is at stake. It does not dramatically affect one’s worldview whether Calvin Coolidge rather than, say, Herbert Hoover was the 30th U.S. President. Just like it does not disrupt one’s worldview if one mistakes the winner of the 1980 World Series with the winner of the 1981 world series. Adjusting relatively inconsequential beliefs is not a matter of grave concern. Nothing major is at stake, other than perhaps a little pride.

In both cases, we may say that what was first in question by Harry was later proved true by a source worthy of acceptance. We may also say Harry became persuaded. Moving forward, we would do well to maintain a clear distinction between the objective nature of proof and the subjective nature of persuasion. The question before us is whether proof is ever dependent upon the result of persuasion.

Now what if Harry did not readily accept the testimony of a book on U.S. Presidents right off the bat? In other words, what if Harry was not immediately persuaded by an appeal to an authoritative book but then after further reflection realized the book must be correct. Obviously Harry’s disbelief would have given way to belief. Harry would have become persuaded by the proof for Calvin Coolidge as America’s 30th President. It is also noteworthy that the proof Harry would eventually be persuaded by never changed. Therefore, the proof itself did not become more persuasive. Rather, a valid proof with a reasonable premise (that such books are typically reliable) eventually persuaded. The variable was Harry. He changed. The proof remained constant. It did not change.

Lest we confound the objectivity of truth and what constitutes sound argumentation, we must maintain that Calvin Coolidge was objectively proven to be the 30th President of the United States prior to Harry becoming subjectively persuaded by the proof. If not, then objective proof would be dependent upon subjective results, in which case arguments could become sound (or go from weak to strong in the case of inductive arguments) after they are subjectively accepted, which would collapse proof into persuasion. It could not be proven to a philosophical skeptic that there is a tree outside the window or the cat is on the roof.

Putting this all together, if persuasion is a matter of what one will accept as authoritative and a sound proof is a matter of validly presented truth, then the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be proven from the Bible regardless whether the unbeliever rejects the authority of God’s word. If proving secular historical facts from fallible and potentially errant books is not dependent upon consensus, then how much more the case with facts contained in God’s infallible and inerrant Word? The issue at stake is what one will accept as authoritative.

Now obviously I would not expect an unbeliever to submit to the objective authority of God speaking in his Word without the Holy Spirit’s sovereign work of subjective persuasion, but neither should I expect a Christian to deny that the Christian worldview can be proven true from the Bible. Comparatively speaking (and whether one accepts it or not), we have it on greater authority that Christ is risen than Calvin Coolidge was the 30th U.S President (or the Phillies won the Series in 1980). Uninspired history books can err. God’s Word cannot.

At the heart of apologetic methodology is ultimate authority. How the authority of Scripture should shape the Christian’s defense of the faith is a matter of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (even as the Christian gives an answer for the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear.) How consistently the believer sanctifies the Lord God in his heart will determine his general apologetic methodology.

 

 

 

Antithesis

Unbelievers require a “neutral” investigation into the claims of Christianity. Unbelievers employ autonomous reasoning, i.e. reasoning from a mindset that does not acknowledge God’s epistemic Lordship over the possibility of human reason itself, without which unbelievers cannot judge whether the Bible should be deemed reliable for its claims let alone authoritative over all of life. Apart from judging the Bible from a throne of autonomy, the Bible and all it claims cannot be assessed as true. The problem with such a philosophical posture, which touches upon a concept that is difficult for both unbelievers and many believers to grasp, is that if the Bible must first be validated by the unbeliever as authoritative, then it cannot be intrinsically authoritative. Yet if the Bible is in itself authoritative by virtue of its divine origin, then no such human validation is permissible (or even possible when one is in submission to God’s word). As long as the unbeliever behaves this way – as long as he remains a judge of God’s word – the unbeliever remains his own authority, which means God‘s word is rejected while the unbeliever believes he is being neutral in his evaluation of that word. With hat in hand, God remains in the dock awaiting the unbeliever’s favor.

What is built into the unbeliever’s make-up is something from which the unbeliever cannot extricate himself. That is, there is an ethically driven intellectual bias, a deep seated antithesis that rejects the authority of God’s voice in Scripture. If God’s Word is authoritative, then it may not be judged. It must be obeyed for what it truly is, God’s word. But like Eve who placed God’s word on the same level of Satan’s and then rose above both to judge what is true, so it is with the posture of the unbeliever. He sits in the place of God.

It is not as though in conversion the unbeliever chooses to grant approval to God’s word and then by way of reason decides for himself to submit to what he himself has decided to be authoritative. Rather, in biblical conversion God subdues the sinner’s will, causing him to believe and to receive God’s word aright, as authoritative. (Then from a recreated posture of belief and submission, the believer can can choose to submit to the authority of what Scripture has to say.) Since we don’t choose to accept truth, the converted sinner doesn’t choose to believe and receive God’s word as being authoritative. Instead, by the grace of God the sinner’s rejection of the voice of God is overcome whereby he finally receives it for what it really is, the authoritative Word of God. 

As noted above, the unbeliever cannot free himself from his bondage and rebellious stance against God and his word. He is not neutral toward God. He is at enmity with his Maker. And although the apologist needn’t necessarily inform the unbeliever of this rebellion, it is nonetheless something of which the apologist should be aware lest his apologetic methodology likely suffers.

 

Apologetical Foundations

If God is the being that Scripture claims, then man’s knowledge must correspond to God’s knowledge if there is to be any human knowledge at all. Not only must man’s knowledge correspond with God’s, Scripture informs that God makes human knowledge possible. Human knowledge obtains when God enables us to think his thoughts after him on a creaturely level.

Yet when the believer engages the unbeliever on the question of God’s existence the unbeliever cannot rid herself of her moral rejection of God as a necessary precondition for the very possibility of knowledge. In her professed desire to be objective in her pursuit of the possibility (or actual existence) of some greater truth, she prejudicially dismisses God as the one who makes intellectual pursuit possible! Due to the effect of the fall, the unbeliever is anything but neutral in her approach to the question of God’s existence. The unbeliever presupposes at the outset that the requisite tools of rational investigation (e.g. logic, inference, memory etc.) and the context in which they function (e.g. reality and providence) are not God dependent. In other words, the unbeliever‘s bias is that any mind-world correspondence is perfectly intelligible apart from any reference point other than the finite human mind itself. Little if no consideration is given to the question of why the subject and object of knowledge should correspond, or how there can be a fruitful connection between the knower and the mind-independent external world that can be known. By the nature of the case, the unbeliever imagines that if God exists, he must be discovered through autonomous reason that is capable of functioning apart from God. In doing so, the unbeliever not only rejects a God who must make reason possible – she actually is not even seeking such a God at all! The unbeliever is seeking a god who does not make knowledge possible and has not plainly revealed himself in creation, providence and grace. The unbeliever is seeking an idol of her own making.

Given such antithesis between God and man, what sorts of things might the Christian want to be cognizant of when engaging the would be atheist? God willing, I’ll take a look at some of those things in the weeks to come.